Archive for March, 2008

Taiwanese Family Names

Monday, March 24th, 2008

It’s great to receive correspondence from people who share an interest in the Taiwanese language and it also helps me understand that there are actually people out there who find this site useful in some small way. I received a question yesterday from a graduate student in Australia regarding family names in Taiwanese and I thought that rather than provide a response to her exclusively I’d put the information up for everyone to see.

> List of Common Family Names in Taiwan

If any other readers out there have any other suggestions for content you would like to see on the site, I’ll be very happy to hear from you.

Ministry of Education’s List of 400 Characters for Taiwanese

Wednesday, March 19th, 2008

Taiwan’s Ministry of Education some time ago published a standardised list of 300 characters used for writing Taiwanese (those that differ from the obvious equivalents in Mandarin, that is), which I have linked to on this site. However, the Ministry then published a follow-up list of 100 characters but neglected to put on their website in a convenient form for interested people to download (unlike the first list). A helpful reader passed the pdf document on to me and I will now host it on the site for anyone to download:

> Ministry of Education’s Combined List of 400 Characters for Taiwanese (PDF)

I believe that doing so does not violate any copyrights and that it was not the Ministry’s intention to keep this list off the internet. When the MoE corrects their oversight and puts the list up I will change the link to point to their version.

EDIT: As SJCMA points out in the comments below, this is a draft version not yet formally approved, hence the reason why it had not been released officially.

The Taiwanese Literature Museum

Thursday, March 13th, 2008

Tai Bun KoanDuring the time I lived in Tâi-lâm (2002-2004) I’m sorry to say I never quite got around to visiting the National Museum of Taiwanese Literature in that city. Now with the excellent High Speed Rail in operation a trip from Pang-kiô (Banqiao) to Tâi-lâm takes just 94 minutes, instead of the four to five hours it used to take by road or rail, and so a trip down south for a period of only a day or two is suddenly a realistic proposition. Among the many places I visited in a hectic weekend recently was the Tâi Bûn Kóan, as the museum is usually known in Taiwanese.

The title of the institution can create a little confusion; in fact it is a museum for all the languages of Taiwan, including Taiwanese but also featuring (in order of arrival on the island) Aboriginal languages, Old Dutch, Hakka, Japanese and Mandarin. The bulk of the literature written in Taiwan has been in either Japanese or Mandarin, although there is also a selection of Classical Chinese literature from before the Japanese period.

Based in the red-brick former City Hall of Tâi-lâm, which dates back to Japanese colonial times, the museum Writing on the wallprovides an impressive setting for the exhibits within. Yet it was not always this way. After the city government moved to the more spacious surroundings of An-pêng the building fell into disrepair with little effort being made to preserve the crumbling superstructure of this imposing reminder of times gone by. Happily the decision was made to renovate the place and put it to work for a new purpose – displaying the convoluted linguistic past of this island.

Before you even enter the museum you’ll find a series of short texts on the low walls which surround it, in various languages including Mandarin, one of the aboriginal languages (I was unable to find out which) and Taiwanese, written in Hàn-lô, which you can see above and to the left.

The exhibits inside range from original texts to spoken word installations to recreations of the living conditions of some of Taiwan’s most famous writers. A good effort is Old Dutch writingmade to cover all the languages spoken today or previously in Taiwan, while also not forgetting writers outside Taiwan who had a great influence on the literature here, such as Lu Xun. The example exhibit above is written in Old Dutch.

In the basement of the building is the library, which houses an impressive collection of texts related to Taiwanese literature, despite the fact that there are rows of shelves still left to fill. Tai Bun Koan libraryDuring my hour or so browsing the shelves and dipping in to the odd book here and there on a Saturday afternoon, I saw exactly seven people who ventured past the entrance to the library, although there were a fair few students taking advantage of the quiet in the study area just outside the library.

If you happen to be in the former capital one day with an hour or two on your hands, you could do worse than wander around soaking up the treasures of Taiwan’s linguistic past and present. The museum is found on the roundabout (traffic circle) at the confluence of seven major roads: Zhongzheng (or Jhongjheng in the Tongyong system which the Tainan City Government insists on using), Nanmen, Kaishan, Qingnian (Cingnian), Zhongshan (Jhongshan), Gongyuan and Minsheng, a very short walk from the Confucian Temple.

Site Update: Improved Bookshelf (Now With Extra Books!)

Thursday, March 13th, 2008

Cover of A-HongI’ve recently got around to redoing the Bookshelf section of the website, borrowing an idea and some code from John Oxton to create a smoother gallery with a nice little pop-up effect for the title and author.

Seven new books are included on the improved bookshelf, including Campbell’s great Amoy Dictionary and a collection of children’s poetry which is great for struggling learners of the language (like me). One job I need to get around to still is that of writing short reviews for all the books featured, although given the speed at which I have been updating the site recently, that might take a while…

“Taiwanese dialect”: a Dangerous Tool of Taiwanese Nationalism?

Thursday, March 13th, 2008

The New York Times recently had an article entitled “Taiwan’s Independence Movement Likely To Wane” on the forthcoming presidential elections in Taiwan. Leaving aside the political assertions made by the writer, which are more than capably dealt with by other writers (see the end of this post) – one sentence right at the end is troubling from a linguistic point of view:

In Mr. Chen’s tenure, the government, besides pushing for controversial foreign policies, also carried out domestic policies centered on Taiwanese nationalism, such as promoting a Taiwanese dialect.

Quite apart from the misrepresentation of the language, demoting it to a “dialect” (a common misdemeanour among non-linguists), there is the worrying association of the Taiwanese language with Taiwanese nationalism. While I would not seek to deny the obvious links in the past and present of language/independence activism, but to many people the promotion of Taiwanese (and other native languages, like Hakka and the aboriginal tongues, which Chen’s administration has also supported) is something completely separate from any goals of Taiwanese independence. Mandarin, like Japanese before it, is an imposed language, enforced by the Kuomintang after the flight to Taiwan at the end of the Chinese Civil War. Is promoting the native languages which many on the island speak tantamount to promoting independence?

Michael Turton (possibly Taiwan’s most prolific English-language blogger) has a piece, focused on the political, which tears apart the NYT article, as does A-gu of “That’s Impossible…”, who also mentions the linguistic issues involved.

Taiwanese Literature Park?

Saturday, March 1st, 2008

Taiwanese SayingThe Tâi-lâm (Tainan) City government has just completed renovations of the Lian Yatang Memorial Park (連雅堂紀念公園地) which have added a little “local language” colour in to the mix, reports the United Daily News. The park had formerly fallen in to disrepair and acquired a reputation in the area for being unsafe after dark.

Along with improvements to the structure and layout of the park in order to improve safety for visitors, the government has designated the area a “Taiwanese Literature Plaza”, which contains engraved idioms and slang in Taiwanese (written in Chinese characters). The beginning of the Taiwanese phrases are written at the top of the plaque, right side up, while the second half of the phrase and the explanation in Mandarin follow written upside-down in the manner of a quiz book.

The example above right is chhit go̍eh pòaⁿah-á, which literally means “mid-July duck”. The July, in fact, is actually the seventh month of the lunar calendar, which is “ghost month” in Chinese tradition – a time of spiritual danger. To ward off this danger, various devotions are made during the month, with the fifteenth day being the time when ducks are slaughtered to offer up to the hungry ghosts (thereafter being consumed by the hungry living). So to be a mid-July duck is by association to be one unaware of impending doom. In English we might allude to a “sword of Damocles” or a “time-bomb”, but I’m struggling to think of something with the same connotations of being ignorant of fate. Written underneath is the completion of the phrase “m̄ chai sí” (“doesn’t know it’s dead”), although the resident native speaker here (my wife) knows the phrase as “chhit go̍eh pòaⁿ ah-á, m̄ chai-iáⁿ sí o̍ah” which has pretty much the same meaning, although I think it scans better.

Chinese ChessThe park is named for Lián Yǎtáng (連雅堂), better known by his pen name Lián Héng (連橫), who was both a poet and a historian. Lian wrote The General History of Taiwan (台灣通史), one of the first comprehensive studies of the island’s past, in 1920 during the Japanese colonial period. Incidentally, Lian Heng is also the paternal grandfather of Lien Chan (Liân Chiàn, 連戰, Lián Zhàn in Mandarin), former Chairman of the Chinese Nationalist Party (Kuomintang or KMT).

I popped down to Tâi-lâm recently and grabbed a few pictures of the park – it’s really a rather sad corner sandwiched in between two busy roads. If you’d like to check it out for yourself, it’s centred in this Google Maps link. During the few minutes it took me to walk around the paths on an overcast Sunday morning, I met a group of old gents playing Chinese chess and a very cheerful homeless man who seemed to have taken possession of one of the gazebos.

Unfortunately, adding a few phrases to the walls does not turn the place in to a “Literature Park” by any stretch, and I’d love to see more concrete steps (oops, bad pun considering the relative lack of grass in the park) taken to promote the language of the majority on the island. Coming up in the next couple of days – a post about the Taiwanese Literature Museum, a place with a more direct contribution to native language consciousness.